New Mexico does not have a certification program for its paralegals. However, in 2004 the state adopted Rules of Professional Conduct that set forth minimum requirements for those wishing to work as paralegals. The rules define a paralegal as a person who is employed by or contracts with an attorney to perform substantive legal work, and who meets the work experience, training or educational requirements of Rule 20-115 NMRA.
Rule 20-115 NMRA outlines six different entry-points for paralegals including: a high school diploma plus 7 years of substantive legal work under the supervision of an attorney; a certificate from an American Bar Association approved program; an associate or bachelor’s degree; national certification; and a law degree.
Is There Paralegal Certification in New Mexico?
With four of the six entry-points into a paralegal career in New Mexico hinging on education, many aspiring paralegals in the state choose to enter programs that offer paralegal studies. Rule 20-115 requires that paralegal programs either meet American Bar Association (ABA) standards or confer degrees. Thus, it is important to research programs to ensure they meet the necessary standards.
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Associate degrees in paralegal studies, bachelor’s degrees in paralegal studies and law degrees will meet Rule 20-115’s requirements outright. If aspiring paralegals have previously earned a bachelor’s degree in another field, they may choose to supplement their education either with two years of substantive legal work or with a post-baccalaureate certificate in paralegal studies. Post-baccalaureate certificate programs offer specialized coursework in paralegal studies without general education requirements.
Becoming a certificated paralegal is also allowed under Rule 20-115. Certificated paralegals have received a certificate of completion from a paralegal studies certificate program that accepts students without a bachelor’s degree. This type of certificate program can vary widely in its rigor. To qualify to meet Rule 20-115, the certificate program must meet ABA requirements, such as a minimum of 60 semester hours of coursework, including 18 semester hours of general education and 18 semester hours of legal education.
National certification, through which paralegals become certified paralegals, is another path to becoming a paralegal under New Mexico’s Rule 20-115. National certification exams are offered by three national professional paralegal associations. To be eligible to sit for a certification exam, paralegals must meet requirements for education, work experience or a combination of the two. Requirements for the national exams differ between the three national paralegal organizations and can be found here.
Currently there are four exams from which to choose:
- The PACE offered by the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The PCC also offered by National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA)
- The CLA/CP offered by the National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA)
- The PP offered by the Association for Legal Professionals (NALS)
New Mexico does not have any professional paralegal associations. However, the New Mexico State Bar (NMSB) does have a Paralegal Division, which grew from the New Mexico Alliance of Professional Paralegals, Inc.
The NMSB Paralegal Division is primarily charged with raising the standards of the paralegal profession in New Mexico and promoting the increased utilization of paralegals within the legal community. To this end, the NMSB Paralegal Division offers continuing legal education (CLE), works collaboratively with other divisions within the NMSB, and offers pro bono opportunities to its members.